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Volunteer army amassed in feed the masses

One of the staff of the "Feed My Starving Children" hunger relief organization briefs 300-some Perham area volunteers prior to one of the food-packing shifts at the Perham Area Community Center. There were six shifts over the course of the two-day project--involving an estimated 3,200 volunteers from the area.1 / 5
Richville Methodist Church was well-represented on several food-packing shifts. This crew included Terry Sullivan, Polly Solberg, Laura Seleen, Amber Jacobson, JoAnn Flom and Annie Carey.2 / 5
At right, more than 400,000 of these bags were packaged and heat-sealed.3 / 5
This crew of young ladies packaged food with the "Northern Lights Dance" team of volunteers. From left, Cassidy Nelson, Olivia Nelson, Jaden Ketter and Adria Smith.4 / 5
When thousands of food items are individually packaged--they have to go somewhere. Pictured here is the volunteer "warehouse crew" from the Saturday afternoon "Feed My Starving Children" shift. They loaded the boxes of packaged meals, organized them on pallets, and banded them together for shipping. From left, Amber Kalina, Abby Kalina, Mike Cummings, Francis Seifert and Bill Hildebrand.5 / 5

"...Chicken, veggies, soy, rice..."

"...Chicken, veggies, soy, rice..."

"...Chicken, veggies, soy, rice..."

"...Chicken, veggies, soy, rice..."

Try saying that four-hundred-thirty-five-thousand-eight-hundred-and-eighty-eight times without twisting your tongue in knots.

Or, if you're up for a real challenge, try packaging 435,888, eight-gram bags of chicken, veggies, soy, rice...

That's about 3.5 million grams of food product, all stuffed in 2,000 boxes.

Destination and mission: Haiti, Sudan, El Salvador, Tanzania, Indonesia, Cambodia, Peru and other global corners, to "Feed My Starving Children."

For two straight days, an army of students and volunteers repeated the packing process with a spoonful of chicken seasoning, a scoop of dried vegetables, a cup of soy cereal and finally, a cup of rice--over and over.

An estimated 3,200 food packers transformed the Perham Area Community Center into a mass production line March 13-14. It was probalby the largest single mobilization of volunteers in East Otter Tail County history--with the annual Cancer Society "Relay for Life" a close second.

Impressive it was.

But even more remarkable is the fact that these dozens of family, service group and church teams packaged enough food to feed 1,194 children for one entire year.

Now, imagine some priveleged, Edina shopping mall pre-teen eating--for a full year...

"...Chicken, veggies, soy, rice..."

"...Chicken, veggies, soy, rice..."

"...Chicken, veggies, soy, rice..."

But for kids in the Swaziland outback, where nearly half of the nation's mothers are dieing of AIDS, these packets of high-nutrition food are a life-saving redundancy:

"...Chicken, veggies, soy, rice..."

"...Chicken, veggies, soy, rice..."

"...Chicken, veggies, soy, rice..."

"It's too bad we can't put all of our kids on a plane and fly them overseas, so they can see what's on the other end," said Perham City Councilman Jim Johnson, who packaged the blend with the Perham city team on Saturday morning.

Though East Otter Tail kids can hardly imagine the kids on the receiving end of the food shipments, they learned a valuable lesson about volunteerism and charity to those less fortunate. More than 1,000 area kids packed food all day Friday, March 13, as nearly the entire student body of the Perham-Dent schools participated in the massive operation. School staff and many adult volunteers pitched in as well.

"Feed My Starving Children" is a Christian organization, founded in 1987, with a mission of "feeding God's starving children hungry in body and spirit." During the training prior to each packaging session at the PACC, the FMSC staff make it clear that you don't have to be a Christian to help package--and being a Christian is not a pre-requisite to receiving the food.

Global hunger efforts are working, announced a FMSC staff member during a pre-packaging pep talk. Though 18 million children starve every day around the world-- it was 40 million only a few years ago.

The FMSC meals cost 15 cents each. The goal, by year 2010, is to package 100 million meals a year. In 2008, FMSC packaged 80 million.

Perham was an especially unique experience, said FMSC staff member Ahren Grebner.

"This is probably the smallest town we've worked with," said Grebner, adding that it is probably the only site where "literally the entire town was involved...the whole community."

The goal for the Perham project steadily rose as more and more volunteers stepped forward. Finally, organizers settled on 400,000 meals. Perham beat the goal by more than 30,000 meals.

In fact, by about 3:45 p.m. Saturday afternoon, they had completely run out of one of the four ingredients of the chicken-veggie-soy-rice blend: Soy.